A Political Romance
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|Original title||The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat|
The novel was the first work written by Sterne, and it can be labelled a roman à clef or a cronique scandaleuse, which were popular at the beginning of the 18th century. It can be considered a mock-epic allegory that describes a provincial squabble between a church-lawyer, an archbishop and a Dean, i.e. a "Lilliputian" satire on ecclesiastical politics in Sterne's York.
This, though necessary, is not sufficient to account for the multifariousness of the work. The scheme of the allegorical satire not only overlaps with the narrative scheme of the romance or history, but with the epistolary novel as well, the parody of which is but the first external frame inside which many other genres are parodied.
The story of the squabble is just half the work. The other half is a "subjoined" key to the allegory and two other letters. And "subjoining" a key, which is in the end no key at all, represents, literary speaking, a "scandal" as shameful as the topical misdeeds that are told. Inexorably, the focus of the scandal shifts from the allegorical history of facts to the allegorical romance of their reading.
The publishing history of Sterne's work
As Sterne's biographer W. L. Cross reports, until the beginning of the last century the only version of A Political Romance available to readers and critics, once it was suppressed soon after its publication in 1759, was the mutilated version reprinted in 1769 (after Sterne's death)' The title of that version was The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat. But in September 1905 an original and unexpected copy was found in the library of the dean and chapter of York. Since then, another five original copies have been found. And what the finders found was that the 1769 publisher, further to making the humorist's language suitable, also cut off the last three parts of the text, i.e., half the work. In 1914 then, when A Political Romance was published by the Club of Odd Volumes, only those few fortunate readers could read, further to The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat, the "Key" and the two final letters, the first addressed to the publisher, the second to the target of the satire.
A Political Romance is available in The Works of Laurence Stern, published in 1769.
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